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    West Bromwich Albion 1-1 Liverpool Match Report

    Liverpool missed out on a guaranteed place in European competition for next season after playing out an uninspiring draw on the final weekend of the Premier League season against West Bromwich Albion. Salomon Rondon opened the scoring for the home side but they were unable to preserve their lead as Jordon Ibe duly equalized with a virtuoso effort midway through the first half.

    It means that Liverpool will need to beat Sevilla in Wednesday's Europa League final in Switzerland to secure European football for next season after they finished the campaign in eighth position. West Ham's 2-1 defeat at Stoke would have opened the door for Liverpool to finish the season in seventh place but they were unable to find the two further goals required to finish above the Hammers. Jurgen Klopp's side now have three days to prepare for the 12th European final in the club's illustrious history, which carries the carrot of qualification to next season's Champions League.

    Cameron Brannagan made his first league start for the club as Klopp named a completely different starting line-up from the one which secured a 1-1 draw at home to Chelsea last Wednesday. Adam Bogdan was recalled to the side for the first time since January, while Danny Ings and Jordan Henderson were named on the bench as the duo looked to make their long-awaited returns from injury. West Brom head coach Tony Pulis named an unchanged line-up to the one which drew 1-1 against Bournemouth the previous weekend, with 17-year-old midfielder Jonathan Leko starting for the third consecutive game.

    Leko made an inspired start to the match and was instrumental in West Brom taking the lead on 13 minutes through the club's top scorer Salomon Rondon. The England Under-17 international picked up the ball midway inside the Liverpool half before weaving past Brad Smith, Joe Allen, Cameron Brannagan and Joe Stewart on a mazy dribble to the edge of the penalty area. He then made a clever angled pass, which split The Reds' defence and set up Rondon to rifle the ball low past the dive of Bogdan's at the near-post.

    Cameron Brannagan was equally as impressive in Liverpool's midfield and his solo run and strike nearly brought the visitors level midway through the first half. The 20-year-old picked up the ball from Sheyi Ojo, 25 yards from goal, before his dazzling feet took him beyond Leko and Craig Dawson and into the Liverpool penalty area. He tried to place the ball through Gareth McAuley's legs, into the bottom right-hand corner, but his effort was comfortably saved by a largely under-worked Ben Foster.

    Foster, however, was picking the ball out of his net a minute later when Jordon Ibe scored his first goal in 17 matches, and his first ever in the Premier League, with a devastating run that started from inside his own half. The 20-year-old's beat James McClean with a clever turn on the right wing before his blistering pace carried him into the West Brom penalty area as several defenders backed off. Ibe duly came inside onto his left-foot, taking the ball past Jonas Olsson, before slotting into the bottom left-hand corner to equalize on 23 minutes.

    It was West Brom who had the better chances in the second half to score the winner, but Salomon Rondon was unable to find the finishing touches having found himself in some promising positions. The Venezuelan was unlucky not to score his second of the afternoon when his glancing header from Craig Gardner's free-kick struck the inside of the post just after half-time. As the ball rebounded across the six-yard box, Rondon then had the chance to turn the ball home from three yards but he was unable to keep his effort down and ended up blazing over the crossbar.

    Rondon also came close to getting on the end of Craig Dawson's right-wing cross on the hour-mark, when he took up a position at the near-post, but he was inches away from heading the ball past Foster from three yards. He had another chance with a quarter of the match remaining when he found himself unmarked from eight yards but he completely mistimed his strike. The 26-year-old duly tried a second attempt, from slightly closer-range, but he spurned his effort a yard wide and nobody was able to turn the ball home in a crowded six-yard box.

    Liverpool's failure to score another two goals meant that Southampton and West Ham retained their places in the top-seven and finished ahead of Jurgen Klopp's side, who ended the season in eighth place. Southampton gained direct entry into the Europa League group stages and, providing that Manchester United win the FA Cup Final on Saturday, West Ham will take their place in the final qualifying round. It means that Liverpool must win the Europa League final on May 18 in order to qualify for European competition for the next campaign in the form of the Champions League.

    The success of Liverpool's season will ultimately be judged not by their league position but by whether they are able to win Wednesday's final against Sevilla at St. Jakob-Park, Switzerland. Victory in the showpiece event will not only deliver the club their first trophy since 2012 but secure a return of the famous European nights, such as the ones they enjoyed recently against Manchester United, Borussia Dortmund and Villarreal. A loss would mean that Klopp's side would have nothing tangible to show for their unrelenting 63-game season and no European football to take into the next campaign for the first time in three years.

    The emergence of players such as Sheyi Ojo, Jerome Sinclair and Brad Smith has demonstrated the many benefits that the club have gleaned from playing understrength sides in six of the final eight league games. If they hadn't rested six of their starting line-up against Stoke City four days earlier, The Reds may not have summoned up the energy in the final 25 minutes that was needed to complete their amazing comeback against Borussia Dortmund. However, by failing to fully commit to the Premier League, Klopp's side has left themselves exposed to the prospect that there may be no European football at Anfield next season, depending on how successful they are on Wednesday.

    West Brom finished the campaign without a win in their last nine matches, although the club were effectively safe from relegation following the 1-0 victory against Manchester United on March 6. The Baggies had more than enough chances to take all three points on Sunday but even if Tony Pulis' side had finished the season with a victory, it would not have improved their final position of 14th. The recent performances of Jonathan Leko, alone, will give Pulis enough optimism of a bright future as they prepare for a seventh consecutive season of Premier League football.
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    Item Reviewed: West Bromwich Albion 1-1 Liverpool Match Report Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Richard Tufft
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